Each week, Luis Miguel Echegaray discusses the latest from the soccer world and shares his opinions, whether you agree with them or not. From standout performances and what you might have missed to what to keep an eye on in the coming days, LME has a few things to say.
USWNT's roster announcement and their historic World Cup quest
The United States women's national soccer team is looking to win the World Cup for a third consecutive time, a feat that no other national team -- men or women -- has ever achieved. The roster was announced on Wednesday by none other than President Biden, the First Lady and some notable friends including Taylor Swift, Megan Thee Stallion, Jalen Hurts, Mia Hamm and Shaq.
A young and largely inexperienced squad in terms of the international stage, 14 of the 23 selected players have no World Cup experience and 11 players have less than 30 caps. But where the roster lacks in age, it makes up for in boldness. Head coach Vlatko Andonovski's squad is fearless and talented, and to reflect that, the announcement should have used a mix of Beyonce's "Run the World (Girls)" or "Bad Reputation" by Joan Jett & the Blackhearts as the soundtrack instead of generic audio.
Regardless, the chances for the Americans to win their third straight World Cup trophy (fifth in total, matching the men's Brazilian team) are good, but I wouldn't say as strong as previous tournaments, including the 2019 edition when they won the whole thing by winning every game, scoring 26 goals (18 in their group) and only conceding three in the knockout stages.
There are generational changes within the team and sometimes that can be overwhelming at the World Cup, but it all depends on how you see it. Offensively, not everything can fall to veterans Alex Morgan, Megan Rapinoe or Lynn Williams. That means Alyssa Thompson, Trinity Rodman and Sophia Smith -- the new faces of the team's attack -- will have to shake off any nerves and be prepared to step up. "I wasn't alive for the '99 World Cup...but I understood the importance of it as early as I possibly could," said Smith this week, which made me feel older than Gandalf.
The other factor lies within the many absences due to injuries, including Mallory Swanson, Sam Mewis, Christen Press, Tobin Heath, Abby Dahlkemper and Catarina Macario. But the biggest hole is with the absence of the leader of leaders Becky Sauerbrunn. She is the team's anchor, calming the waters of anxiety and discontent whenever things are not going their way. With more than 200 appearances for the national team and three World Cup appearances (two wins), she is a mentor and selfless captain.
The third reason is related to the competitive balance between teams across the world. The gap between the USWNT's talent pool and their European opponents has never been smaller. Sarina Wiegman's England -- the European champions -- are a force to be reckoned with and the Lionesses have a similar excellent chemistry as the Americans, while a talented Spain, efficient Germany and relentless France will all be tough to overcome.
Ilkay Gundogan to Barcelona is a win-win
Next season, LaLiga champions Barcelona are looking to return to Champions League glory. Lionel Messi's return couldn't happen, but I have always seen this as a positive because the Barca of today needs to move on from the Barca of yesterday, and that includes Messi. Sergio Busquets and Jordi Alba have also gone, so it's time to pass the baton to the future generation. Gavi and Pedri represent that future. The same with Jules Kounde and Ronald Araujo, as both are only 24 years old.
And as Real Madrid press the proverbial reset button in their midfield, Barca need to make shrewd signings. But looking ahead doesn't mean complete reliance on youth, which is why Gundogan's reported arrival to Barcelona proves to be an excellent transfer. At 32, he's not exactly a spring chicken, but his positional versatility is where head coach Xavi can use him. The German midfielder was instrumental for Manchester City, and I'm not only talking about last season's historic treble but also his heroics in 2021-22 when his goal clinched the title for City.
Gundogan is football's Mystique, able to shape-shift into whatever you need of him in the middle of the park. He can act as a pivot, a narrow-winger, a false nine or just a regular creator. He will add experience in midfield alongside Gavi and Pedri, and given his success under Pep Guardiola, adjusting to Barcelona's system should be no problem.
Why the 2024 Copa America will be the biggest so far
The Copa America is less than a year away and I am excited. Firstly because of my Peruvian roots, as it's always great to see the national team in a significant international tournament since it doesn't happen too often. Secondly, it's in the U.S., meaning this will be a great opportunity to see how the nation prepares for a major competition, especially as it gets ready to host the World Cup in 2026 alongside Mexico and Canada. The format will be the same as the 2016 Centenario (10 CONMEBOL teams and six from Concacaf) where teams from the latter region will qualify based on their Nations League performance.
The U.S. hosted the 2016 edition, and it was an interesting affair that showed the multicultural appeal of American soccer fandom but this time around, I expect a more exciting tournament. For one, Messi won't have to travel too far after signing for Inter Miami. And South American teams will enter the tournament in strong shape. The World Cup champion is Argentina, the 2023 U-20 World Cup winner is Uruguay, while the Olympics and defending U-17 titles are with Brazil. The USMNT squad has never been so talented, so it's really down to Mexico and South American teams at the bottom of the barrel to keep up.
Jose Mourinho's ban for referee abuse
A four-match suspension for verbally abusing referee Anthony Taylor during the Europa League final? Mourinho got off lightly.
Despite the fact that this is double the minimum two-game ban required by UEFA disciplinary rules, I still think the Portuguese manager got away with one here and most importantly, it sends a poor message to the rest of the footballing world. Criticizing the referee has always been a natural instinct in this game. But there is a difference between exposing frustration at a decision and relentless abuse. Mourinho did the latter, especially after waiting for the referee at the stadium's parking garage in Hungary right after the final and calling him a "disgrace" followed by expletives.
What do you think will happen after that? In a world where everything is recorded and shared on online, the answer was given a day later when Roma fans, provoked by Mourinho's antics, followed Taylor and his family at the airport and harassed them to the point of genuine fear for their well-being.
When you're a person of public notoriety, especially in football, your actions are exposed for millions to see, and this relationship between manager/coach/fan/parent/player and official -- whether it's your child's U-9 tournament or the Europa League -- needs to change.
Goodbye N'Golo Kante, we'll miss you
Kante is off to Saudi Arabia and I'm so sad. Not because of Saudi Arabia's grand yet questionable transfer plans, I have already written about that. This "Offside" is devoted to how the Premier League was so lucky to have Kante. In 2015, he moved to Leicester City for less than $8 million from Caen, and became arguably the best player in the league when Leicester won the title in 2015-16. A season later, he won it again with Chelsea. Eventually, as he earned the Champions League, the FA Cup, and the World Cup with France, his reputation grew. His song ("N'Golo Kante, Pala Lalala, he's short, he's nice, he stopped Leo Messi") was chanted by everyone (except Argentina who France knocked out).
The very best of N'Golo Kante 💙 pic.twitter.com/Yr3uSpuqGp— Premier League (@premierleague) June 21, 2023
Kante is universally adored and respected because above all else, he is a good human being. A practicing Muslim, he once met a fan at a mosque and accepted his invitation to go to his house. A decent man who happened to be one of the best midfielders in the modern Premier League era. The league will miss him.